Packers sacks leader Za’Darius Smith status in jeopardy for Week 1 vs. Saints

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There’s plenty of time for things to turn around, but the Green Bay Packers could be without one of their best players when they visit the New Orleans Saints for the regular season opener on Sept. 12. A recent back injury has sidelined defensive end Za’Darius Smith, who paced Green Bay with sacks (12.5) and pressures (59, via Pro Football Focus).

Packers coach Matt LaFleur addressed Smith’s situation on Sunday, saying: “I’m not quit sure when we’ll get Z back. … It definitely is a concern.” LaFleur added that the injury “could potentially” impact Smith’s status for Week 1.

“He’s injured right now,” LaFleur continued. “I know he wants to be out there, but we’re going to be smart with him.”

Smith’s last trip to New Orleans was his worst game of the year. He was shut out as a pass rusher, posting no quarterback pressures for just the second time last season while chipping in a single tackle and a forced fumble. He rushed 13 times against Terron Armstead’s left side on passing downs while getting stonewalled by Ryan Ramczyk on the right side 23 times. Smith was also fouled for a 5-yard defensive holding penalty.

Armstead and Ramczyk have been up to the task of stopping Smith before, but his larger body of work speaks for itself. Taking him out of the equation substantially lessens the challenge of frustrating Green Bay’s defensive front.

But the Saints won’t be at full strength, either. Michael Thomas isn’t expected to be available for the season opener while recovering from ankle surgery, while David Onyemata will be serving a six-game suspension. Though it hasn’t been handed down yet, Deonte Harris is anticipated to be hit with his own two-game suspension, too. Still, this is a situation to keep an eye on in the weeks ahead. Starting the 2021 season with an upset victory as home underdogs would do a lot to galvanize the fanbase for this new era of Saints football.